Tag Archives: personal finance

Life with a mortgage (is surprisingly sweet)

Life with a mortgage is pretty sweet

Living with a mortgage ain’t half bad.

My contents insurance, which WAS around $1200 a year when I was renting, plunged to about $400 when I bought my house. Car insurance decreased by a few bucks too. Unexpected fringe benefits of home ownership! My jaw literally dropped when I heard the new figure and I had to ask the rep to repeat it back to me.

My house insurance is about $1250 a year. And since I got a $1200 cash gift from my new bank when I confirmed my mortgage, it’s basically free for the first year.

Council rates (the equivalent of property taxes in some of your countries) are pretty darn affordable. Mine are just under $1500 a year. This is typical for houses in this range; when house hunting I saw probably up to a $500 variation in annual rates between all the properties, based on their value.

And YES, before all you (non NZ) lovers of renting jump in, I’m prepared for the costs of maintenance – I will be referring back to my pre-purchase house inspection report plenty over the coming years, which was brimming with recommendations around everything from insulation to safety glass.

Replacing the deck and repainting the roof will probably be the priorities – but a new kitchen just might come first. There’s no rangehood, no splashback (both noted in the report as matters to remedy) and everything just generally needs an overhaul. Might even knock through a wall and make the whole living and kitchen area open-plan with an island.

How much am I paying?

My 30-year mortgage is structured in three parts. Here’s what it’s costing me per fortnight:

  • $77.83 ($30,000 floating loan @ 5.29% – was 5.44% at drawdown but rates dropped since)
  • $492.24 ($215,000 fixed loan for 2 years @ 4.35%)
  • $474.30 ($200,000 fixed loan for 3 years @ 4.65%)

So I’m paying the bank $1044.37 every fortnight, plus I’m also repaying my family at $200 on top of that: $1244.37 all up.

Thus far I’ve also knocked another $3,000 straight off the principal with extra lump sum payments but now I need to turn my attention to a few other financial priorities.

Mortgages in NZ

So, if any of that sounds weird, here’s a simple intro to mortgage options in NZ.

Or if you’re not much of a video person, let me try to run you through how things work here.

Fixed vs floating: There are fixed mortgage rates and floating (variable) mortgage rates. Fixed rates are typically lower.

The minimum term you can fix for here is generally 6 months and the maximum 5 years. Lots of people (like me) split up their mortgage into a few separate loans, some floating, some fixed. Floating allows you to focus on repaying the loan without penalties, while fixed gives you some certainty around rates (but with less repayment flexibility). And thus, a combo can offer the best of both.

Then there are a few more types of mortgage accounts available with floating rates:

Revolving credit loans are basically a giant overdraft, with one account acting as your loan, chequeing and saving account all in one. Your pay goes straight into the account and the idea is to leave the money sitting there as long as possible (eg putting your expenses on a credit card and paying them off at the end of the month). By keeping the account balance (and thus, loan balance) as low as possible at any time, you save on interest because the bank calculates interest daily.

Obviously this requires discipline and organisation, though you may be able to set it up so that your credit limit reduces over time, making it easier to stay on top of things and ensure you’re making progress. When it comes to refinance/rollover time I imagine I’ll choose revolving credit for part of my mortgage.

Similar but different, an offset mortgage is linked to your other accounts with the bank. Your mortgage interest is offset by the amount you have in your other accounts. For example, if your mortgage balance was $500,000 and you had $20,000 between your savings and chequing accounts, you would only be paying interest on $480,000. But compared to revolving credit, offsetting is not offered by as many banks.

And in case you missed it: my step by step guide to actually buying a dang house, from getting preapproved to settlement day.

5 ways I’m accidentally frugal

5 ways I save money by accident

I have a penchant for good food and travel, but by happy accident, there are lots of ways in which I manage to save money with zero effort.

I don’t really drink … anything

Alcohol, coffee and soft drinks don’t really agree with my digestive system. I don’t know how much NOT buying any of these on the regular saves me but I bet it’s a reasonable amount. Plus I’m a lightweight so if I do drink one is always enough.

I’m unfashionable

I have no sense of fashion nor interest in it. Every so often I go through a spurt of wanting to be stylish and plan to start accessorising and planning outfits more carefully – which never lasts very long before I revert to my lazy ways. There’s no point trying to fight my inner nature.

I’m kind of antisocial

I have friends, I swear, but I’m hardly swamped with invitations out every week. (Years ago I figured I needed to start making new adult friends and swore to start going to Meetups: then I realised I find it hard enough to keep up with my small circle and if I can’t even maintain my current friendships I shouldn’t add anymore.) My social calendar is sparse and I like it that way. More time to cuddle up with the dog and a book at my cosy place.

I love carbs

Seriously, I could basically live off potatoes, pasta, bread and rice.

I hate driving. And parking

Having a car is a necessity here but it’s also expensive! There’s no reason for us to have two vehicles and being a one car household definitely saves money. It’s occasionally inconvenient but those instances are rare.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt and Femme Frugality*

How To Worry Less About Money: 3 things I took away

How to worry less about money - book review NZ Muse

The most refreshing thing about How To Worry Less About Money is the author’s unflinching observation of how money affects relationships. In this book, John Armstrong relates this back to his own marriage.

“My own experience is that money worries can cause terrible conflicts in relationships. I fear I have damaged Helen’s life by not making more money. And there are stylistic clashes: I like being lavish; she’s much more restrained. For instance, I like the idea of going to fancy restaurants; she prefers the modest family-run place round the corner, or chicken soup at home. (And this is all the harder to deal with because our earnings point in the opposite directions to these personal tastes).”
Well, I’m the Helen in my life, and I can vouch for the fact that I have felt resentful many a time. I wish that weren’t true, but I am human, and perhaps not always a very good one. This is us, down to a T, especially the incongruence between tastes and earnings.  I would be curious to hear Helen’s viewpoint.

Money and marriage

Armstrong points out that in the world of Jane Austen, having enough money is taken very seriously (and rightly so!) as a necessary condition of happy marriage. Money reduces the fragility of a relationship, and makes people more relaxed. Money buys luxury, privacy and  stimulation. Money is for some people an aphrodisiac.

All of these things resonate so hard (perhaps not exactly the last one, but financial stress is a huge turn off and therefore lack of money is definitely a turn off).

Alas, there are no true solutions offered up, despite the practical promise offered in the title. This is a philosophical read about how we think about money, relate to it, the space it occupies in our minds and lives.

It’s a book about money worries, as opposed to money troubles.

Money troubles vs money worries

Money troubles, Armstrong contends, are urgent. They call for direct action and can only be resolved in one of two ways: either you gain access to more money or you go without something else.

Money worries, conversely, are about imagination and motions, not just what is happening now. Money worries often say more about the worrier than the world. They’re about what’s going on in your head not just in your bank account.

The meaning of money

When you strip money right back to the fundamentals, it is just a resource – a means of exchange.

“In other words money is an instrument … Ultimately the task in life is to translate efforts and activities that are inherently worthwhile into possessions and experiences that are themselves of lasting and true value.

“That is the ideal money cycle. Our relationship with money becomes unhealthy when we remove it from this cycle. That happens when we stop seeing money as potential possessions and experiences – but rather see possessions and experiences as potential money.”

We’re all bombarded these days with the reminder to DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Armstrong acknowledges that we need to make enough money to meet our needs and we also need to do things that help us make sense of who we are and contribute to collective good.

You can escape by not caring about meaning. And you can escape by not caring about having much money.  But a lot of people care about both.”

* * *

If you know roughly what to expect going in, this is a great read. I related to so much of it, I was constantly nodding along and found myself bookmarking what seemed like every other page.

If you’ve read it, what did you think?

The power of extra mortgage payments

Lots of personal finance bloggers, especially after becoming debt-free, say saving is boring.

I don’t get it.

I love watching my money grow and the numbers tick up. There’s nothing better – except cheesecake, maybe.

I’m a bit of a hoarder in real life, so maybe it’s not surprising that I also like to hoard money (real or otherwise – sometimes I think wistfully of all the Neopoints I had banked back in the day).

I was so resentful of my consumer debt, basically because I didn’t actually get anything out of it. It was all incurred while supporting an unemployed partner – less consumer debt and more keeping up with bills, really.

But now that I have a mortgage, I just might be changing my tune. It’s a different story as I deliberately took on this debt, plus the payoff is so much bigger.

I don’t mind my mortgage as I wouldn’t have a home without it, but I’d like to minimise the massive effect of compounding interest working against me.

The $3,000 in extra lump sum payments I’ve made? Apparently saves over $9,000 in interest over the long run.

I get it now…!

Financial privileges I have (and haven’t) had

FINANCIAL PRIVILEGES I HAVE HAD

It’s so easy to get caught up in focusing on what we don’t have. (Guilty as charged, on a daily basis!)

For example:

  • I left home young – no cellphone, no computer, no car, just some clothes, books and my guitar – and became financially independent at 17
  • I don’t work in an industry known for being lucrative and my skills skew more creative, less practical
  • I don’t have an equal financial partner; our relationship has spanned multiple bouts of unemployment/underemployment that add up to probably tens of thousands spent supporting us solely on my income

But I’ve also had so many financial privileges in my life. I don’t know where I would be without these things today.

Let’s see:

I grew up in a financially stable home

I never wanted for anything. I have financially savvy parents and money was never a taboo topic. I came away with an understanding of the importance of saving, and I  was encouraged to focus on the future and think about career paths.

I received a full tuition scholarship

My merit scholarship paid for my university fees. Between the student allowance and paid work, I was able to cover my living costs and graduated basically debt-free. Otherwise, 12 cents out of every dollar I earn today would be going toward student loan repayments.

I’ve never been unemployed

Despite entering the workforce during the GFC, I have always been employed. The work I do also aligns well with freelancing/side hustling.

The stockmarket has been kind to me so far

It even helped me with my house deposit. I never intended to use that money for a down payment – it was invested for the long term originally – but it worked out well.

I’ve benefited from family support

This ties back in to my first point, too. My parents looked after me during my separation, offered help with the purchase of my house and were in a position to lend me money towards it so I could buy something decent.

What financial privileges have you had?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and Frugal in SA

How’d she manage to pull off buying a house? (blood sacrifice and dark magic, duh)

How I bought a house in Auckland on a single income

It’s too easy, for those of us who have somehow managed to scrape into the hallowed ranks of Auckland homeowners, to fall into the trap of blaming everyone else for their own poor financial choices and unrealistic expectations.

I’m determined not to do that.

I know that simply cutting back takeaways is not going to get you into a house.

I know that rents keep rising; when I was at university $350 a week got you a three bedroom rental in the humble suburb where I grew up, and today it gets you a one bedroom.

I know that prices and incomes are all out of whack, and yet, the way things are here, it generally makes sense to buy if you can.

Basic housing – dry, warm, healthy, affordable even – is a luxury in Auckland and it shouldn’t be. Renters are treated as second class citizens in every way. The quality of rental housing is abhorrent. There’s no stability. I note without pleasure (okay, maybe a LITTLE grim pleasure) that relatively well-off media commentator types who once often spoke out about what a waste of money it was to buy a house have now started families and oh, promptly gone and purchased property to live in.

I’ve put off writing more about the nitty gritty of buying my house – the financials, that is.

In a way, I feel like I haven’t truly earned it. And maybe more importantly, I’m nervous about the inevitable judgement that’s going to come my way.

Do I owe anybody any details? No. But might transparency benefit someone else out there? Maybe. And if the struggling house hunters who opened up about their finances for the Herald’s Home Truths series can do it, I probably should too.

Here it is.

Based on my pre-approval, I set out to buy a property $500k or less, using the Welcome Home Loan scheme (allows first home buyers to get in with 10% deposit, subject to other conditions). The majority of my deposit came from my KiwiSaver. (It’s never been affording mortgage payments that poses an issue, but rather the down payment.)

At this point I was temporarily staying with my parents, and they were helping me house hunt. There wasn’t a lot in my price range at all, let alone properties that were actually fit for residence. The two places in my budget that I wanted to make an offer on (though I was pipped to the post on those) … let’s say my dear mum wasn’t very impressed with the properties.

But as I told them: beggars can’t be choosers, and I’m a beggar in this market. My criteria is whatever I can afford, and within that, whatever I think I can live with. I was prepared to compromise on various things as required – basically anything, although not everything. Slim pickings weren’t necessarily a negative. I’m chronically indecisive so a narrow range of options was actually a good thing for me.

They also offered to help out, moneywise. I was very appreciative of the offer – and also very reluctant to accept it. My preference was to buy within my original budget, on my own steam, but together we started looking at some more expensive properties as well.

The more we looked, the more it made sense. The phrase ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ comes to mind.

The prospect of them topping up my buying power went against my core principle of Doing Things On My Own. And yet they genuinely wanted to. Rather you pay us than the bank! It would mean a better house – still absolutely in entry level territory, but more liveable and better located. And importantly, potentially a forever home. I’ve moved so, so much while renting and it has been exponentially more soul destroying each time. I always wanted to buy a house and then never move again if at all possible. I just can’t imagine dealing with the stress of moving PLUS throwing the logistical headache of both selling and buying into the mix. Obviously people do it all the time, but I can tell you right now that climbing the property ladder is not for me.

The final price for my house was $595k, so with them making up the difference, means I owe them close to $100k. A little less than that now, after a few months of repayments.

So in the end, I didn’t take a Welcome Home loan, just a regular one – but it worked out for the best. As a result, the rest of the loan process was a lot simpler and shorter (less paperwork). And I didn’t get the $5k government HomeStart grant, but that would basically have been cancelled out by the Housing NZ premium applied to the WHL anyway. Turns out that’s a bit of a wash as a single income home buyer…

Withdrawing KiwiSaver money for my first (and hopefully last) home puts a major dent in my retirement savings, it’s true. But I’m comfortable with that choice, having pondered it for a couple of years, and still being young with time on my side. Saving for the future is important – but so is having a stable and healthy living environment in the present. (One word: mushrooms.) And while I don’t see my home as an investment, having a paid-off house will be a huge benefit come retirement. There’s a lot of talk right now about how Generation Rent will be at a disadvantage in this regard, and for good reason. Having discussed this with people at work who know much more about finance, mortgages and the economy in NZ than I do, I feel confident in this decision being the right one for me.

Probably more painful – emotionally anyway – is the fact that I accepted family help. Now I’m just like basically every other Auckland homeowner my age. Even as a loan rather than a gift … this makes me one of those awful privileged millennials tapping into the Bank of Mum and Dad. Let me tell you, that stings.

But pride ain’t everything, and I’ve said before that I wouldn’t look a gift horse like this in the mouth should it cross my path. I’m happy (understatement: DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY) and apparently so are they. A win-win, I suppose. Heck, for health reasons alone, I can tell you it has been so, so worth it already! I rub rosehip oil into my stress scars each night (from the chronic eczema that literally evaporated once I moved into my house) and I know I made the right choice. I pinch myself most days, wondering if this is actually my life, and feel so grateful to be here.

It’s bloody expensive to live well

Living well is expensive - it takes a lot of money just to get by

Who says money can’t buy happiness? Life is expensive. A basic life – at least in NZ – is expensive, and a good life even more so.

Money buys a place to call home

It’s an incredible feeling to know I never have to move again unless I want to – as long as I keep paying.

It’s an equally incredible feeling to wake up and NOT start sneezing immediately, every single day. I no longer dread middle-of-the-night awakenings (for whatever reason) because I’m not automatically going to be a huge snotty mess. To have the whole house be the same temperature. To not have condensation on the windows.

I bow to you, mighty HRV system. You cost practically nothing to run overnight and yet make such a huge difference.

My physical health (not to mention my mental health) has been boosted legions by owning my own home. Money has literally bought me better health.

Money buys a way to get around

Having a reliable vehicle is so important, particularly in a one car household. Buying cheapo cars has never worked in our favour; taking out a car loan turned out to be a wise choice. Spending more for a car that will last is not indulgent; it’s rational.

Money buys decent clothing

Having bras that fit is crazy awesome but it’s definitely not the cheapest. Quality ethical clothing, ditto – and I must confess I don’t actually make this a huge priority. I hope I’m doing a little to help by thrift shopping as much as possible. And I might add to this, other items that touch the skin – namely, bed linen, good sheets are a must!

Money buys real food

I love my carbs. Yet I know I really need to eat more fruits and veg. But they’re so much more expensive (as are nuts, seriously)! A loaf of bread or a bag of pasta gets you so much further than the equivalent spend on apples or tomatoes. And don’t even get me started on the cost of good cheese and meat. Yeah, I’m a glutton.

I was watching the mini series Chef’s Table recently. It was a joy to see the artisan growers the top chefs source from, and just how much thought and love goes into developing those amazingly flavourful, organic crops – but it ain’t cheap, for obvious reasons. The plan is to grow more of my own, but I’m never going to be completely self sufficient.

And you know what, quality dog food isn’t the cheap stuff, either. I don’t think the preservative and grain laden kibble is the best for my girl, and I’m pretty certain she gets more hyperactive after eating it.

Money buys getaways

I love travel, but NZ is just so darn isolated. My hostel days are past me, and I’ve never been into camping. But that’s okay, because I love my home and I’m nesting hard; I’m totally happy to be a hermit for the foreseeable future.

All the money I’ve wasted renting

All the money I've wasted renting

Ten years of renting was a few too many, personally.

Non refundable agent’s fees

A week’s rent plus GST – many, many times over.

Bonds you never see in full again

Fair enough in some cases, but definitely not in others.  And as a tenant you’re at a vast disadvantage here.

Carpet cleaning

Expensive carpet cleaning fees are included in leases by agencies – big and small alike – everywhere. Tenancy law information online seems to suggest these are unlawful, or ‘unenforceable’, but practically speaking, if it’s in the contract what are you going to do, kick up a fuss? There’s a dire shortage of housing in Auckland and it’s hard enough to secure a rental as it is.

Dodgy utilities

I was briefly in a very strange situation where I was in charge of the power bill, and everyone was supposed to split it evenly with me, but there was also a separate couple subletting the self contained downstairs rooms from one of the other flatmates/tenants (who was also the mother of my friend and fellow flatmate), and that flatmate was charging them a flat all inclusive rent and not including them in the power bill split. Yeah, try wrapping your head around that. Then there was the shitty apartment where you had to use their electricity provider – there was no other choice – and that provider had only one plan and no low user option, meaning we were stuck with higher prices than we would be paying on the free market.

Buying and selling things

Every move forces change of some sort – buying or selling appliances and/or furniture depending on each individual property’s size and what is or isn’t provided with it. Fridges, washing machines, tables, couches … It gets old.

Lost and broken stuff

I’ve had countless possessions go missing or break due to flatmates. No point having nice stuff.

And I can’t put a dollar amount on it, but…

So much time and stress. Taking time off during the work day to dart out to viewings (always within business hours) and to agency offices to sign papers.

Literally months of uncertainty over the years when you know you have to move and scramble to find a new place (about six months total in 2015 alone).

Fighting shitty landlords trying to blame us for things going wrong with the house, so they wouldn’t have to foot the bill for their own maintenance and repairs.

So, so glad not to be living what amounts to a temporary life anymore.

Adventures in first home buying

Buying a first house in AucklandThis was not how I pictured myself buying a house.

I imagined being blissfully married, with two reliable incomes, a solid savings history, starting to think about a family, maybe.

None of this was true in 2016.

But the main thing is I now have a stable place to call home. It means the world to me to have a house of my own, after two years of living in a holding pattern. The last few months in particular have been the textbook definition of ‘transitory period’ and I’m so ready to put them behind me.

A few false starts

I lost track of how many houses I saw. Dozens upon dozens. But here are the ones that came close.

The first one I saw was a cute early 1900s bungalow with a country feel, hardwood floors and nice outdoor flow. But conversely, there was no available information upfront about what updates (if any) had been done to bring it up to code, the kitchen was cramped and there was only one minuscule wardrobe (this was a tiny place with barely two bedrooms).

The next one I liked was a similarly country-feeling house, except this one was actually semi-rural, with a septic tank and all! Again only two bedrooms, but it was the location that gave me pause – it was just a little too far away. Plus, it was on a unit title, something I’d rather avoid.

Then there was an unassuming duplex that dropped my jaw once I stepped inside. Perfection in every way. There was even an adorable spiral staircase. The buts: it was two stories rather than single level, attached to another unit, parking was limited, and it was cross lease.

This one ticked basically all the boxes. Liveable off the bat, solid bones, sunny and cosy. Of course there are things I’d like to do but they can be tackled slowly and aren’t major or urgent, and there’s room to renovate.

But how do I actually do this?

I have yet to find ANYWHERE a brutally detailed, step by step guide to buying a house in New Zealand. I had basically no idea what to expect at each stage. There are bits and pieces of info online but what I desperately wanted was a thorough walk-through. I hope to never ever do this again in my entire life … but just in case, I’ve recorded the process for reference. Here’s my experience of buying a house by negotiation in Auckland.

Apply for mortgage preapproval

Meet with broker, do paperwork, gather supporting documentation.

COMMENCE STRESS AND WAITING.

I was applying for a Welcome Home loan, which takes quite a long time to process – two weeks in this case. It was an immense relief when it finally came (I was half convinced I would be rejected, given my usually stellar records had taken a big hit thanks to the whole unemployed partner debacle) and I had a wee lie down on the floor after opening that joyous email.

Start going to open homes

Graduate from stalking listings online to actually going out and seeing properties.

SO EXHAUSTING.

Endless viewings every weekend; scrambling to view new listings after work before they get snapped up. And then emailing my broker about every individual listing that I was seriously considering. Bleh.

Negotiating/Making an offer

AKA welcome to Stressville.

This house was listed as ‘deadline private treaty’ – aka get your offers in by a certain date. That date was about a month out and I could tell it wouldn’t get anywhere near that point. Indeed, after one look around I knew it would go like hot cakes; we got there about 10 minutes into the first open home, and there was already at least one offer in.

Getting mine in apparently involved signing a non binding  ‘offer to purchase’ form, which looked ridiculously informal. Scribble in your offer amount, desired conditions … and then text a photo to the agent. I wish I was kidding.

We popped back the following day for the second open home, which confirmed my first impressions. There were even more offers by this time. After this viewing, the negotiation commenced that same evening. It was an exhausting and inefficient round robin over the phone, slowly whittling down the eight bidders to one.

You know, I had all these grand notions about crafting an emotive personal letter to submit with my offer that would dazzle the sellers and help secure my bid … but this didn’t happen. In the end it had no bearing on the situation, and it was only money that talked.

Getting the call to say I’d gotten the house was pretty surreal. Then came a congratulatory text from the agent, and a bit of emoji-heavy banter back and forth.

Sealing the deal

Forget Stressville, now we’re in Stress City.

Hurrah for long weekends. On Auckland Anniversary, I went in to sign the sale and purchase agreement and organise to pay the deposit. The contract was a super daunting document in some ways and yet so underwhelming in others. It wasn’t totally unfamiliar to me, as the agent for the very first house I went to actually gave us an S&P agreement to take away. Then the contract was sent to the broker and lawyer, and the wheels set in motion for the next phase.

Working through the conditions

No rest for the wicked.

The agent provided a LIM report, so I just had to confirm finance and organise a building inspection. Seriously – the longest five working days of my life. And as if I didn’t have enough on my plate already, I had to contend with daily calls/texts from the agent nagging me for updates and reminding me about all the backup offers on the table. Duuuude.

More paperwork than you’ve ever dreamed of

So much you could drown in it, if the papercuts didn’t kill you first.

KiwiSaver first home withdrawal forms.

More bank forms (including a terrifyingly huge number called Priority Sum. I’d never heard of it. Still couldn’t explain it to you, really. Thank god for Google).

Confirming mortgage structure and interest rates.

Getting house insurance.

And income/life insurance.

Organising account setup with the new bank.

The land transfer form.

More bank forms (these ones signed in person at the lawyer’s office) and title form.

Waiting for the vendor’s lawyer to send through the final settlement statement with sum to settle.

A minor panic when it came time to transfer the balance to the trust account, and the lawyer’s deposit slip seemed to have some extra digits at the end of the bank account – as if my nerves weren’t already shot enough!

(I accept no responsibility for any inaccuracies in the naming of the documents listed above.)

Settlement day

AKA the most nerve wracking day of all.

My lawyer had told me not to worry if I didn’t hear anything from her during the day. That would probably be a bad thing – it means something’s gone wrong. Just hang tight.

The first person I heard from was the agent. About 11.30, he texted saying they had the all clear to give me the keys, and could he drop them off to my office? (Um, YES.)

A couple hours later the lawyer emailed to wrap things up. And boom, hello homeownership.

* * *

A garden, a dog, compost, chickens (well, eventually). Farms and bush around the corner, the beaches not too much further.

This is everything I have been dreaming of.

The intersection of capability and circumstance (in personal finance)

financial capability nz

A few months ago I accepted a new position that perfectly suits my nerdy, money-loving heart – one with the overarching aim of helping people get ahead financially.

Very early on, I got to attend a particularly enlightening conference (the video below comes from that) and also a community workshop in a lower socio-economic area of Auckland. Let’s just say the challenge is huge. More than ever, I’m coming to understand the complexity of the issue: it’s not just about individual efforts and bootstrapping, it’s about human nature and psychology – and of course, the wider system.

In a country like New Zealand, where the cost of living is pretty astronomical, budgeting can only take you so far. Where housing costs are out of control, home ownership is spiralling out of reach, the rental market is squeezed and the condition of rentals is a public health issue. Where public transport is pretty abysmal, and low-income households often lack access to a vehicle, and therefore, supermarkets and healthy food options. Where certain cultural norms mean that family can either be a boost or a drag, holding individuals back from getting ahead. Where high burglary rates mean frequent setbacks, unless you can afford excellent insurance. Where people being locked out of the property market today is going to have huge ramifications when this generation reaches retirement.

True, some people don’t have huge lofty goals and aren’t particularly interested in ‘getting ahead’. But we can’t get away from the fact that we live in a capitalist society, and you need money to exist in it. Inflation is a fact of life; things are only ever going to get more expensive. We’re already a low-wage economy, and if your income remains stagnant, you’re going to wind up at the wrong end of the inequality gap – a yawning gap that’s only growing. I for one don’t want to wind up being a burden on society. So I was really happy to see a session on upskilling and increasing your earnings as part of that community programme, because spending is only half of the equation. It doesn’t matter how good you are at budgeting, if you don’t have enough money coming in, you’ll never get ahead.

 

Sure, let’s build financial capability so people are better equipped to deal with whatever circumstances life may throw at them. (Pretty much everyone can and should be doing better, to varying degrees.) But it’s about more than that. Health, family, educational, church systems – all contribute to financial wellbeing. IMO so much hinges on those early years; if you start out behind it’s a lot harder to catch up and overcome setbacks. And the worse that things are for you now, the harder it is to think about the future.

(For one of the best posts I’ve read on this topic, head over to Frugalwoods.)

I’ve been fortunate on the health, employment, family fronts. Not everyone has the luxury of that kind of head start. You need to be able to get ahead of yourself in the first place, to get ahead of your paycheck, build up a buffer, get a reliable vehicle, secure your housing situation.

And yet, I came on board at a personally tumultuous time, financially speaking. By the CFSI’s reckoning, I was probably a bit closer to Financially Tenuous rather than my usual Financially Striving. It was so, so hard to come into work every day, think about personal finance, listen to coworkers’ tales of buying houses, all while shit was falling apart in my own life. Despite that, I’m so happy to be doing what I’m doing. I feel like it’s the perfect time to join the fray – financial capability is on the political agenda, recent legislative changes have improved consumer protection around credit and disclosure, and we’ve only just begun.